Homes on the Range
[originally printed in Wilder Quarterly, Summer/Fall 2013]
Text by JT Homesteader founders Jay Babcock and Stephanie Smith
“A taste for existence within the functioning of the natural world is urgent. Without a fascination with the grandeur of the North American continent, the energy needed for its preservation will never be developed.”
—Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth
Loaded down by debt and tired of the contemporary urban experience, in 2010 the two of us (separately) decided to try our luck dealing with the imploded economy by living full-time in a beautiful place we loved: the high-altitude, low cost Mojave Desert, just miles from the national park in Joshua Tree, California. Before long we found each other, and today, somehow, we’ve got a house, two vacation rental homesteader cabins (and another on the way) and a 20-acre fruit orchard to our name. Of course, we had a head start—Stephanie is an architectural designer who’d bought property here to experiment on, earlier in the decade—and we’ve enjoyed some good fortune. Still, it’s been quite a challenge, and we’ve had to evolve our long-term strategy on the fly. If you’re curious, here’s how we’ve been making it work out here in the desert—so far…
1. GO RURAL
Really rural. We live on the grid but off the pavement, in unincorporated County land. So: dirt/sand roads, piped-in local aquifer water and power, high-speed relay internet, propane tank for gas, no sewer lines. No streetlights or helicopters, no car alarms or lawnmowers, no mail service, no curbside recycling…no curb. Embedded in slightly settled, mostly unfenced quiet wilderness, with deep unsmogged horizons, enveloped nightly by a fantastically starred sky. It’s a long way from the urban apartments we spent our adult lives in, or the suburbs we grew up in. And yet, Joshua Tree was always here for weekend roadtrips. We went camping…and stayed. We found where we wanted to retire, and moved there early, decades ahead of schedule.